An Evening with Siri Guru Granth Sahib
Refreshed in Body – in Mind – in Spirit
The goal of The Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out is to help people have an experience of religion that opens up hearts as well as minds. Those who attended Sikh Sacred Texts left laughing joyfully, animated, and refreshed – nourished in body, in mind and in spirit.
Nirinjan Singh Khalsa, a gifted speaker, began the afternoon with everyone gathered in a small classroom at Khalsa Care Foundation to view a beautiful and informative set of slides (available here on the website) about Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred text of the Sikh religion, the fifth largest religion in the world today, founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak in the Punjab area of India and Pakistan in a time of the great injustice of the caste system.
Nirinjan made it a point to say from the very beginning of his talk that he hungered to hear the things we wanted to know about Sikhism. He offered a true exchange not a one-sided lecture. Thus he created a rare opportunity to learn about these people of deep integrity and courage who lives are formed in their relationship with their living Guru: Guru Granth Sahib.
Unlike the Holy Bible, or the Torah, or the Bhagavad Gita, or many other sacred texts, the Guru Granth Sahib is not a history or even a story, rather it is “a compilation of the devotional writings, poetry and hymns of seven of the Sikh Gurus and … of Sikh, Sufi, Hindu and Muslim saints and sages”. It is a collection of chanted teachings carefully pieced together to function like a tuning fork used to restore the harmony of the listener by orienting one ever towards The Holy. The Text is not worshiped as an idol but rather is fullyengaged as a Living Guru. One reveres and experiences the Guru Granth Sahib as a means of attuning with God through being with the Holy Text.
There were many thoughtful questions that did, indeed, lead into a rich and poignant exchange filled with remarkable vulnerability and compassion. Participants gained not only information about the trappings and traditions of Sikhs, but experienced their integrity as well as Nirinjan became an example of how they live out their faith.
Following the classroom exchanges, all were invited to shed shoes and don head coverings, in order to enter into the large, peaceful sacred space of thegurdwara to experience actually being in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib. Once acclimated to the potential awkwardness of sitting on the floor, men on one side and women on the other, one began gradually to relax into the rhythmic chanting.
There in the front of the room on a raised throne-like platform (Palki) was a heavy, richly decorated dark blue cloth that covered the Guru. A turbaned man holding a large white Chori sab, waved it respectfully over the Sacred Text.
The words being chanted were of the Sufi saint Kabir and were projected in English and Gurmukhi on either side.
“First, Allah created the Light; then, by His Creative Power, He made all mortal beings.”
“The Creation is in the Creator, and the Creator is in the Creation, totally pervading and permeating all places.”
“The clay is the same, but the Fashioner has fashioned it in various ways.”
“There is nothing wrong with the pot of clay – there is nothing wrong with the Potter.”
As one allowed oneself to sink gently into the chanting, into the thoughts of God, slowly the inner chatter of the day that clutters the mind began to recede. Breathing slowed. Peace slipped in where tension dwells. We sat and began gradually to let go of those things that distract and disturb our focus from the Eternal. We truly entered into sacred space.
After a time, there was a shift – an announcement of the coming ceremony of preparing and putting the Guru to rest at the day’s end. We rose and then sat to receive a mouthful of sweet dessert and then we rose again to stand witness to the deeply respectful, ritually choreographed wrapping of the Holy Text in layers of silk for the evening’s repose.
Once the initial ritual was complete, the Guru Granth Sabih was escorted in procession back into the room prepared for it and placed in bed for the night.
We were invited to peek into the room before we moved to partake into the generous meal, thelungar, prepared for us by Sikh families who were our hosts at the gurdwara. The Sikhs served us while we ate but were also open to engage in conversation, conversations that grew deeper as the evening advanced. The children eagerly helped their parents and then slipped into seats to listen into the conversations going on around them.
Earlier in the classroom, Nirinjan had spoken of the terrible wave of bigotry and violence unleashed since 9/11 upon the Sikh communities in the United States, where men and women and even children have continued to be subjected to hatred, suspicion and brutality simply for wearing the outward symbols of their faith and living as productive, peace-loving Americans. He had said that tragically many Sikhs in many places in America have had to choose between following their faith or shaving their beards and cutting their hair to be able to find work so they can support their families. As the evening came to a close, one of the participants new to The Guibord Center came to Gwynne and said, “Ever since 9/11, whenever I’ve seen someone with a turban, I’ve always stepped back. After tonight,.. I’ll step forward.”